wiki:wef-report

EXPANDED/INTERLINK REPORT

Political Climate

The political climate of the Palestine World Education Forum was the inspiration for a decentralized event. Because Palestinians have been displaced all over the world, a truly Palestinian forum event needed to be held in multiple locaitons. Therefore, workshops and conferences were scheduled in dozens of cities in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Palestine 1948 territory, and Lebanon.

The main World Education Forum office was located in Ramallah, however important work was done tirelessly in other cities as well. The technology work, which includes live video streaming, website editing, registration management online, and global-expanded workshops, was all coordinated from the Ramallah offices.

With a poly-centric event, it is necessary to innovate ways to connect the many locations through solidarity events, common logos and printed material, and technological solutions. Technology was used in a way that would unite the many Palestines as one for the WEF event. Live video conferencing, called "Interlink", was planned to be used to join speakers and participants into large plenary events. Skype was intended to be used for activities during which participants in Palestine would be connected to other groups throughout the world in open discussion, called "Expanded Activities". The website was used to track workshop submissions, dissemenate information about the event in all locations, and host media such as pictures and video. Each of these projects along with their particular needs, successes, and challenges are explained below.

Choices about how to conduct the technology were made by volunteers and leaders of the World Social Forum and in conjunction with the Palestinian Organizing Committee. Namely, choices to use free and open source software such as Drupal and Red5 were integral to the success of the technology eat the forum.

Overview of the Logistics & Timeline

(For reasons explained below, the following describes only what was planned for the West Bank locations.)

Each day of the four-day forum event was scheduled differently and posed particular needs for technology and the technology volunteers.

On day one, an opening ceremony was held at a large arena in Ramallah. Although a professional media organization filmed the event, we were unable to meet with them in advance nor coordinate at the arena to stream the high-quality video of the event. Instead, a low-quality web camera broadcast the event via Interlink on the website.

The second day of activities were unable to be streamed via Interlink due to the lack of Internet access. By the afternoon of the first day, we were able to connect and successfully held multiple Expanded Activties.

On the third day, teams of no fewer than two volunteers spread to 5 locations in the West Bank to stream Interlink activities in the morning and support Expanded Activities in the afternoon. Only one of the five locations had Internet access, in Jenin. Therefore, there were few successes on this day.

The final day, no events were streamed due to the lack of Internet access.

Intrastructure and Equipment

The needs for the planned technology projects of the WEF required server hosting, software and software development, audio-visual equipment, Internet access at many of the forum locations. The server which hosted email and the primary website was paid through a local Palestinian company but was ultimately housed in the United States. Software used for the website and the telecommunications projects included Drupal, Red5, and Skype (which is proprietary software). The Drupal site was created and maintained by Alternatives International and May First/People Link technologists. Red5 and Big Blue Button was developed by unweb.me and implemented for use on May First/People Link's servers in the US via an interface on the main WEF website.

Five kits consisting of cameras, microphones, speakers, projectors, and laptops were required for the Expanded Activities. It was also planned that three sets of equipment would be needed for video streaming from the West Bank, which included a digital video (DV) camera and laptop. Internet access was required at all locations in order to connect to the streaming server and for Skype connections.

Volunteers

In order to connect the five main regions of the forum (Gaza, West Bank, Jerusalem, Palestine 48, and Lebanon), local organizers were asked to identify a contact for technology work. Palestine 48 was visited in-person to coordinate this work as well. In the end, only West Bank was able to work with its volunteers to broadcast and connect with Skype its activities via the organizing work described in this report. Other locations implemented technology to record, photograph, and broadcast their event in other ways. This was the main barrier to creating shared plenary sessions, such as was outlined in the political goals above.

Volunteers in the West Bank were trained over a three week period to use Skype and Red5 via the WEF website. Thirteen total individuals were present for the forum event in the West Bank, although dozens went through the trainings at least once. During the decentralized day in the West Bank, at least two volunteers worked together to setup both Interlink and Expanded Activities in their locations, with full equipment kits.

Email, Website, and Newsletters

Email was the primary mode of communcation for many of the WEF organizers. Because the WEF was an international event, many emails were sent to participants to confirm their workshop events. The main organizers of the WEF office in Ramallah all used email to maintain these communications.

The website at http://wef-palestine.org was used as a main conduit for dissemenating important information and media updates about the event. Content was published daily for 4 months before the event. The website was designed to organize content such as photo galleries, press releases, information about food, travel, and accommodations was available for all locations of the forum, as well as political commentary, blogs, and links to other local organizing projects. It was also used as the registration system for international participants and for submitting workshop, or self-organized activity, submissions. Hundreds of activities were submitted. The website was published in four languages with translators working to get every page translated throughout the duration of the organizing process. During the forum, nearly 10,000 people visited the website. In its entirety, the website was viewed 30,000 times.

Since email was an important means of communicating, the website was designed to coordinate newsletters. The organizing team was able to write weekly, and during the forum daily, communications to participants about important information, summarizing what was published on the website.

The WEF was conceived as a solidarity event across multiple organized locaitons. Also, it would conceivably reach participants in many locations around the world that would not be able to physically attend. For these two needs, there was one solution, which came to be known as Interlink. Interlink is technically, live video streaming through the main website. To connect the organized locations of the WEF, each venue would display the live stream of the other with audio-visual projection. Thus, the need for a conferencing system was fulfilled. Also, anyone in the world with Internet access could view the same stream from their location. Thus, the need for a global connection was fulfilled. Chatting capabilities were also developed to allow for a viewer of the streaming video to communicate with others watching the stream as well.

To stream video, it was required that two volunteers operate a laptop connected to the Internet that streamed content from a DV camera.

The Interlink system used an open source software called Red5 to capture and display streaming video. The videos were embedded in the wef-paletsine.org website, where a schedule of streaming events from the West Bank was also published. The events to be streamed were the press conference, opening ceremony, morning conferences, and closing plenary. Unforunately, no events in other locations aside from the West Bank could be scheduled due to a lack of coordination among volunteers. Also, it was disappointing to find that there would be no Internet access avaialble at any of the locations except for the opening ceremony event.

So, despite the implementation of the software and purchase of the audio-visual equipment, without Internet access, the Interlink system was not successful. However, this did not impact the success of the solidarity of the event between locations in Palestine and throughout the world.

Expanded Activities

(The Expanded organizers might elaborate on this report in a separate document.)

Based on the experiences of the World Social forum in Brazil 2009 and the US Social Forum in 2010, the Expanded Activities were conceived to be a way that international participants unable to travel to Palestine territory could not only watch the WEF events, but also actively participate. Expanded Activities were submitted via the website and scheduled by an international team. Ongoing communication was done with an international team as well to organize logistics. Essentially, Expanded participants needed to provide a location and equipment similar to that which would be present in Palestine in order to have a shared Skype conference.

Skype was used with small kits, including a web camera, microphone, laptop, projector, and speakers. 30 events were scheduled, approximately 20 of them were held, with a total impact of 200 people participating simultaneously around the globe with the WEF event. Again, Internet connectivity was a huge barrier for some Expanded events, which were held only in the West Bank. No Expanded events were scheduled for other locations in Palestine.

Conclusions and Recommendations

The successes of the technology of the WEF include implementation and use of the website, participation and training of volunteers, and equipment supplies.

The website was full of content related to every important aspect of the forum leading up to the event. Video was used to express the perspective of the main organizers of the forum. The content was translated into at least two languages (Arabic and English) as well as Spanish and French on many occasions. It was used to send weekly newsletters, record event registration, and gather and display self-organized activities. Without the website, it would have been very difficult to organize an internaitonal event. It is important to note in this report that the website was not used as much by the Palestinian communities as the international participants, which therefore required a lot of support from the main WEF office to be responsible for updating all information online.

Technology volunteers were found from local technical university programs. Mostly young men, some women also participated and helped to train other volunteers as well. Some were international participants. Meetings were held consistently for three weeks leading up to the event. Each meeting involved training in using Skype and Red5 through the WEF website. Although many volunteers came to trainings, only half ultimately helped with the forum events, both in the Interlink and Expanded activities.

In the end, equipment was supplied to the specifications of the technology plans outlined above. The WEF borrowed equipment from the Teacher Creativity Center and volunteers used their own laptops in some cases. Overall, it was a very successful endeavor because of the generosity of the forum organizers in prioritizing purchase of technology equipment.

Some of the challenges include coordinating decentralized cooperation on the technology projects, confirming the availability of Internet connections at all venues ahead of time, and the lack of open source software for video conferencing.

Last modified 8 years ago Last modified on Sep 13, 2011, 1:25:17 PM